Are Whites Partly the Reason Why Black Films are starting to flourish?
There is an interesting write up in The Hollywood Reporter that recognizes the success black films have been experiencing lately, and the observations are weighed heavily on their impressive box office numbers. The Best Man Holiday, is the latest film to reemphasize this trend, thanks to a solid opening this past week, and the numbers are only getting higher.
British director Steve McQueen’s gem 12 Years a Slave, features a more diverse cast but the subject matter clearly resonates with audiences of all ethnicities, the same goes for The Butler, and Fruitvale Station.
As encouraging as it is to fathom the fact that black films are potentially becoming more mainstream, perhaps we need to also be realistic about the reasons why this is happening. The article in THR, lays out a few explanations, one of them offers the possibility that having a black President could be an indication that Americans are now more open to diversity. That is a bit of a stretch and completely absurd to insinuate the person who runs the county somehow influences the choices we make when it comes to entertainment. It’s highly doubtful that white audiences are more interested in black films because they were willing to vote for a black man to run the White House.
The simple truth is that the black films that have experienced success across the board are absolutely the types of films that would attract a diverse audience because of their patriotic themes. The Butler’s success wasn’t surprising considering the all-star cast that included Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker and the fact that it’s storyline is seeped in historical relevance and biographical references. Those types of films tend to do well regardless of the cast, and this time it’s fair to say that even though the main characters were black, there were enough white cast members to sort of even out the playing field. 12 Years a Slave is another film that tackles storylines seeped in history in a way that instinctively attracts attention on a broader spectrum. Again, the main character played by Chiwetel Ejiofor is African-American but the supporting cast isn’t just diverse but features top talents like Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt so it’s not that far-fetched to anticipate that it would have a decent run at the theaters. The Best Man Holiday exceeded expectations it’s first weekend but time will tell if this will continue since it’s highly doubtful that their record numbers at the box office can be attributed to sudden interest from a white audience. It has an all black cast and unless you saw its predecessor, The Best Man, you most likely won’t rush off to see this latest installment.
There are three other films that will be vying for attention in the weeks to come, The Langston Hughes inspired Black Nativity with Angela Basset, Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson opens on Thanksgiving, Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas debuts Dec. 13 and there are plans to expand the release of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom staring Idris Elba and Naomie Harris to a wider audience later this year. Out of the three, the Mandela flick seems to be the one to most likely succeed due to the worldwide popularity of Elba and the iconic character he portrays. The other two will predictably be regulated to a mostly black audience, which doesn’t make them lesser films; it just explains why they will be moderately successful.
The article in THR tries to dissect why black films are suddenly doing well, but the point is that certain black films experience success because of their subject matter not because more whites are paying to see them. The only way this theory can be debunked is if black films consistently enjoy big numbers at the box office in a way that puts them on par with the competition. That’s day may be peaking over the horizon but it hasn’t arrived yet.